The Best Drivetrains For Winter

Nov 18, 2016 by Cedric (Driver Weekly)

There are hundreds of factors to consider when buying a new car, and the drivetrain is one of them. For those who live in areas of the country with significant snowfall, ice, or poor roads, the drivetrain may be more important than you think. Many automakers promote AWD as the best for driving in snow and ice, but you should still do some research before making a final decision. After all, once you pick a drivetrain, the only way to change it is buying another car.

FWD in Winter

Most vehicles sold today are front-wheel drive as standard, and they do better than most people expect in the snow. This is because the transaxle and engine sit right on the drive wheels. This means that if you have winter or snow tires providing increased traction to your front wheels, you should be fine driving around in a front-wheel-drive vehicle. The only exception is when the snow gets too deep, in which case you will also need ground clearance. Those who want performance handling won’t appreciate front-wheel drive, but it is great in snow and comes on the most affordable vehicles. However, drivers in regions with heavy snowfall or icy conditions might want to consider another drivetrain.

RWD in Winter

Rear-wheel-drive vehicles tend to distribute the weight of the car more evenly from front to back than front-wheel drive models. They are also cheaper and lighter than all-wheel-drive models. They tend to be more rugged and durable, making them great for performance vehicles. If you plan to drive in winter weather, however, you should avoid a rear-wheel-drive vehicle whenever possible. These models are prone to fishtailing on wet or icy roads, particularly in the case of pickups with rear-wheel drive. RWD is not the best choice for a winter driver.

AWD vs. 4WD

While some people consider AWD and 4WD to be the same, they are not. All-wheel drive is a more advanced system that sends power to both axles and all four wheels on a variable basis. Four-wheel drive systems can only split power fifty-fifty between the axles. It is often an option or driving mode on trucks or vehicles designed for off-roading. While it provides better traction at low speeds in rough conditions, four-wheel drive is less versatile in the winter at higher speeds on wet roads.

AWD in Winter

All-wheel drive lets you send engine power to all four of your wheels or an individual wheel as needed to ensure you have enough traction. Therefore, most experts suggest all-wheel drive for those in winter or snowy climates. It can improve handling on any pavement, whether it is wet or dry. It also delivers excellent grip on roads coated in snow. All-wheel drive has been optimized to be used on paved, smooth surfaces as well as on snow or unpaved dirt or gravel. Best of all, using an all-wheel-drive system doesn’t require any involvement by you since the system automatically sends the power to the necessary wheels. The only downsides to all-wheel drive are that it isn’t designed for going off-road and it adds to the price and weight of your vehicle. Although it is most commonly offered on crossovers, it is also available on sedans and many sports cars. You can find all-wheel drive on a range of models, some particularly suited for winter driving.

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